Creative Process Part 3 — Bill T. Jones's process

Modern-dance legend Bill T Jones via

Modern-dance legend Bill T Jones via


In parts 1 and 2 of our exploration of creative process, we've examined a famous bit of advice from jazz trumpet great, Clark Terry

 “Imitate, assimilate, innovate.”

The idea might be that to find our own voice, we might start with our attention fixed upon some external point of reference.  As we imitate and learn, our attention draws inward, integrating what is outside of us with what is inside until, at the end of the process, we have shed the imitation and learned to channel ourselves through our art.  

As Sanford Meisner's Repetition Exercise revealed, accessing our creativity requires a process that allows us to get out of our own way.

With this idea in mind, watch this video of one of the greatest voices of modern dance, Bill T. Jones.

In this video, he demonstrates a multi-phase process.

  •  Phase 1 — Perform the dance phrase
  • Phase 2 — Perform the phrase as if teaching a class, as clearly as possible with detailed verbal description.
  • Phase 3 — While keeping the movement as accurate as possible, perform the phrase while saying whatever you are thinking or feeling.
  • Phase 4 — Perform the phrase while saying whatever you are thinking or feeling, but now what you say and feel affects your movement, and your movement affects what you are thinking and saying.

Jones's approach to unearthing what he has to express—starting from procedure and then seeing what emerges from it— feels resonant with Terry's and Meisner's.  They are describing one of the great creative paradoxes: to look inward, we have to first look outward.  And in order to accomplish this task, they have created a procedure that frees their attention from the question "What should I do now?"


Jazz great Clark Terry via

Thank you for reading